A French company is using enzymes to recycle one of the most common single-use plastics

Because disposable plastics are mainly derived from petroleum, By 2050 Plastics may account for 20% of the world’s annual oil consumption. Reducing our dependence on plastics and finding ways to reuse plastics that already exist in the world can greatly reduce emissions.

Currently, only about 15% of all plastics The world collects and recycles every year. Since the 1990s, researchers have been trying to find new ways to break down plastic, hoping to recycle more plastic.Companies and researchers have been working on the development of enzymatic processes, such as those used by Carbios, and Chemical process, Just like the method used Recycling industryBut until recently, enzymatic and chemical processes have not been commercialized.

Carbios’ new reactor is 20 cubic meters—about the size of a truck. It can hold two metric tons of plastic at a time, or the equivalent of about 100,000 ground bottles, and decompose it into the components of PET—ethylene glycol and terephthalic acid—in 10 to 16 hours.

The company plans to use the knowledge learned from the demonstration facility to build its first industrial plant, which will house a reactor 20 times larger than the demonstration reactor.The full-scale plant will be built near a plastic manufacturer somewhere in Europe or the United States and should be operational in 2025, said Alan Marty, Chief Scientific Officer of Carbios.

Since the company was founded in 2011, Carbios has been developing enzymatic recycling. The process relies on enzymes to cut the long polymer chains that make up plastics. The resulting monomers can then be purified and stringed together to make new plastics. Carbios researchers started with the natural enzymes that bacteria use to break down leaves, and then adjusted them to make it more effective at breaking down PET.

Carbios’ demonstration facility in Clermont-Ferrand, France. Image courtesy of SkochProd.

Carbios estimates that compared with virgin PET, its enzymatic recycling process can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 30%. Marty said that as they solve the problem, he expects this number to increase.

recently report, The researchers estimate that compared with the production of virgin PET, the production of PET through enzymatic recycling can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17% to 43%. According to reports, the report is not specific to Carbios, but it may be a good estimate of its process. Greg Beckham, A researcher at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and a co-author of the report.

Although the development of new enzymes has always been the main focus of new research and commercial efforts, other parts of the process will determine the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the technology, said leader Beckham Consortium About new plastic recycling and production methods.

Beckham said: “These are not so fascinating things,” for example, making plastic into a form in which enzymes can effectively decompose or separate what the enzyme spit out may require a lot of energy and time, and increase emissions and costs.

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